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OP-ED: What the VP debate showed

  • Published at 06:15 pm October 22nd, 2020
mike pence kamala harris

Pence comes across as a teenage Trump, Harris as smart and tough

The debate between the two candidates for vice president Harris and Pence was conducted with reasonably good behaviour on the part of the candidates.  

Common opinion expressed by the newspapers and commentators is that the debate was a draw. It is remarkable that Americans congratulate ourselves for the candidates behaving with a minimum of courtesy towards each other.

What were the objectives of the two debaters? For Pence, it was to make Harris appear as a nagging, nasty woman, bad tempered, and out of her depth. He failed. She kept smiling and delivered her positions smoothly, if not brilliantly. Her objective was to come across as a reasonable candidate, well informed, able to stand up to a nasty man, and fully prepared to take up the tasks of being president of the United States if needed.

So Harris let Pence lie about everything -- of course with Pence you never know if he is ignorant or just lies. Pence dealt with all of the questions by lies or by irrelevancies. Pence operates from a position of having no program for the time after the election. There is no articulated set of objectives for the Republican Party. Hence, Pence is pushed into defending a vacuum.  

Nothing useful was said by Pence about the Covid-19 crisis other than Trump did a brilliant job and the problem has gone away. The is an empty, silly position that was just laughed away. I find it hard to understand how he could make such statements with a straight face.  

Harris tried to put forth some kind of program that Biden would implement after winning the election. But this was thin gruel. In terms of substance, as opposed to posturing, both candidates did poorly.

Reality is that Trump did a bad job with the pandemic; we cannot tell how much better a serious effort would have achieved. Based on other countries, probably much better. The blood of 60,000-100,000 American Covid-19 deaths stains the hands of Trump and Pence, the number rising every day. Trump is indifferent to anyone’s blood but his own; Pence however, pretends to be Christian but Jesus Christ would reject him. Odd indeed.   

Rather than being under control, the pandemic is entering a second wave in Europe and the United States. Trump and Pence failed completely with the first wave of the pandemic. Now they deny a second even exists. Pence was pathetic in the debate in his fables and lies about the pandemic. 

Another area of importance is the economy. Reality is that Trump inherited an improving economy, but his policies accelerated the improvements. As Gallup tells us, 64% of Americans said that they were better off than three years ago, and this was found in the early days of the pandemic. Trump did give the economy an extra push.

Trump did three things to help the economy: His winning the presidency made many businessmen more optimistic about the future, escaping from what they feared to be a potential heavy regulatory hand of Clinton. Second, he reduced or cancelled many regulations. No one knows the full implications of these regulatory changes.  

This certainly raised expected profits. But many of these regulatory changes imposed external costs on the economy that would be paid in the future by the people, not by the company using them. 

This kind of economic growth is an illusion. Third, Trump and the Congress passed a tax reduction. This reduction was a drug that bought a little economic growth while increasing the deficit.  

This was a highly irresponsible action to take when the economy was operating at full employment. Furthermore, most of the benefits came to the rich. Pence took credit for the good part without recognizing the costs. 

This is a controversial argument; it is always difficult to know whether economic growth purchased with a higher deficit is worth it.   

Nothing much was said about the critical need for support for the unemployed in the present crisis and the failure of the two parties to deal with the most urgent problem facing the economy. Like children fighting over toys, the American political establishment has betrayed the poorer 50% of the population.  

Nevertheless, one has to give Trump considerable credit for his economic management before the pandemic.

Pence lied about the existence of a Trump medical insurance program to improve or replan the Affordable Care Act. Trump has no plan. Just empty promises. These promises are promoted as if they were real. Pence was busy making believe that this was real.  Total dishonesty on one of the key issues in the campaign by a man who would be president.  

Harris refused to answer if she believed in increasing the number of justices in the Supreme Court. This is a sensitive issue, as it is widely believed that Americans do not want the court to be packed for political reasons. Harris simply refused to answer, as she did not want to say no and she did not want to say yes.  

This issue certainly disturbs a lot of people, but on balance, it is something for the future.  

Pence tried to dominate Harris with his talking and interrupting. It was a typical effort by a man to push a woman around. 

Pence is not a really dominant personality so he was not very successful at being a tough guy. When Harris pushed back, particularly at the end of the debate, Pence conceded. On their performance, Harris is smarter and tougher.

CNN opinion polls reported Harris was the winner. I believe the lesson is that Pence, like his master, lies, or makes things up. Pence set out these lies smoothly. Harris was less convincing in her policy presentations, but good enough. Everyone who listened concluded that Harris was up to becoming president of the United States. That was what the Democrats wanted to achieve. 

Pence came across as a teenage Trump. Somewhere deep in Pence’s soul there is a voice telling him what he is doing is wrong; that blatant falsehoods are not the actions of a decent man, sooner or later he will regret and confess.

Forrest Cookson is an economist who has served as the first president of AmCham and has been a consultant for the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.

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